Operation 'Buckland' - April 1945.

Discussion in 'Italy' started by bexley84, Apr 9, 2015.

  1. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member

    On 17th April, the Irish Brigade took up the running from 11 Brigade:

    "The London Irish were to go over at 0400 hrs the next morning in their ‘Kangaroos’ and “marry up” with 9 Lancers on the north of the Reno. Brigade Headquarters opened up that evening about 3,000 yards east of Bastia. The Brigade, less the London Irish, concentrated just to the north.

    The plan was for us to pass through the Lancashire Fusiliers, as soon as they had secured their bridgehead over the Fossa Marina. These obstacles were the largest canal that ran from Argenta in a north westerly direction across our front. It was the main obstacle in the area. The Faughs were to go first and advance in a north westerly direction; the Skins were to follow them and swing west.

    Zero hour was to be first light on the 17th. Each battalion had its squadron of tanks and normal supporting arms. The whole move was designed to outflank the town of Argenta on the east and then cut Route 16 north of it. The plan, if successful, would seal off the town and open a way through the gap.

    The Argenta Gap was no ordinary problem. It was flanked on the left by the river Reno and on the right by flooded low lying country and the Comacchio lake. The enemy was determined to prevent all attempts to break through this Gap of a little over 4,000 yards wide. Another gap in the floods about 1,000 yards wide existed further east by the Strada dell Pioppi and, in that area, 56th Division were smashing their way through against stubborn resistance..."
     
  2. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member

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    THE BRITISH ARMY IN ITALY 1945

    At first light on the 18th April 1945, the force moved forward into battle. This was an unforgettable move.


    Through the orchards north of Argenta, in the narrow gap between lake and canal, moved a mass of armour, all passing over one bridge that had been constructed over the main water obstacle. Wrecked vehicles, equipment and enemy dead strewed the route, whilst machine gun fire from a position in Argenta, already surrounded, cracked away on the left flank.

    The usual difficulty was experienced in breaking through our own FDLs but, by 1000 hrs, we were in the open and the tanks were engaging SPs and Mk IVs. A ‘Kangaroo’ was hit by an AP shot and some trouble was experienced from Boccaleone and Consandolo on the left, neither of which had been captured but the weight of armour and mobile Infantry was beginning to make itself felt and the advance continued with prisoners streaming in.

    At about 1700 hrs, the tanks, which had been trying to solve the jig saw puzzle of finding a way across the maze of ditches, discovered an intact crossing of the Fosso Benvignante and very soon they and the infantry were over and investing the area which lay between this and the next obstacle. As it was now late in the evening, this took the enemy completely by surprise and an Officers Mess, a battery of 15 cm guns, a battery of 88 mm guns and numerous smaller AA and A/Tk pieces together with approximately 200 prisoners were overrun. This, all in spite of the enemy’s attempts to hold us by close range firing over open sights. By the light of numerous burning houses and, with a sense of complete victory, the battalion moved to its final area for the night in the vicinity of Palazzo and Coltra, having already three intact bridges over the next canal in its hands.”
     
    Last edited: Apr 18, 2020
  3. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member

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    "On the 19th, the Bays left us again to go off with 11 Brigade. They were not getting much rest these poor fellows. The Kangaroo Army was paying a great dividend but it produced one considerable disadvantage in that it left only two armoured regiments to fight with three infantry brigades as the 9th Lancers were always tied up with the London Irish. The General did his best to hang on to 48 Royal Tank Regiment and, if he had succeeded in this, the continual swapping of armour would not have arisen. Changing armour in a battle is always a tricky thing – especially when you have got to know one particular lot. It was difficult for people to realise why all this chopping and changing of armour was going on but, if we couldn’t get a fourth regiment of tanks, there was no other course open – that is, if we wanted to make the best use of the ‘Kangaroos’.

    It was a day of rest for the Brigade and well earned rest too! Looking back on it, I still believe that the battle of the Argenta Gap was the turning point of the whole campaign and it was our two battalions that bore the brunt of it. If the Skins had failed to achieve all they did, it might have altered the whole course of the operation..."
     
  4. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member

    20th April 1945 showed continuing forward progress for 78th Division.

    "At 0145 hours, 2 Lanacashire Fusiliers began to move across and very soon afterwards, whilst the area was still under fire from enemy mortars, the sappers completed a bulldozed crossing of the twin canals and tanks began to pass across. The operation of moving into and through this small bridgehead proved more complicated than had been expected. Trouble was experienced in getting the wheeled vehicles over the crossing and, due to this and various other causes, the advance astride the railway with two battalions up (the Surreys on the right and the Lancashire Fusiliers on the left) did not get going until approximately 0900 hours. When it did begin, opposition proved to be stiff and the going was slow. By nightfall, positions were reached astride the railway on the general line of the road running south from Runco to the railway, thence westwards on the road to Montesanto as far as the Fossa Rivalda and thence south westwards to the twin canals di Porto and Bolognese. At the left extremity, the line now joined up with the positions of 5 Buffs, who had pushed on during the day, in the general direction of San Nicolo Ferarese and had thus confirmed with the main thrust beyond the twin canals.
     
  5. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member

    “The attack went in as planned on the morning of 21st April, with 1 RIrF on the left and 2 Innisks on the right. On the north side of the railway, 5 Northamptons gave protection to the right flank and, beyond the twin canals in the south, 5 Buffs conformed with the advance. Both Irish battalions moved forward quickly behind the gunners’ barrage and, by 0220 hours, two companies from each were across the canal, having used the rubble of the demolished bridge as stepping stones..."

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    Last edited: Apr 23, 2020
  6. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member

    Brigadier Pat Scott, 38 (Irish) Brigade:

    "On 22nd April, 11 Brigade passed through the ‘Kangaroo Army’ to attack towards the Po di Volano at Fossalta and Baura.

    We had a rest that day and the battalions had certainly earned it. It had been a very tough battle under a very difficult circumstances and everyone had done magnificently. I had a good look at that open ground that the Skins had advanced over in their turn north eastwards. It was perfectly foul!

    We moved Brigade Headquarters to Voghiera and the Skins brought their Battalion Headquarters there too. As I was driving back towards the village from visiting the Faughs, I heard an appalling rattle of musketry over my head and saw a Lightning shooting up the congested traffic approaching the village. Not content with that, he unleashed a couple of bombs at it. Divisional Headquarters’ transport was passing at that moment but luckily escaped unscathed though, when I appeared on the scene, there were one or two staff cars strewn about at odd angles when the drivers had very wisely made a quick move for a ditch..."
     
  7. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member

    “The morning of April 23rd showed us little major change on our own front, with the Division now closed up to the line of the Po di Valano and the Diversivo di Volano round the Fossalta pocket. 5 Northamptons had a firm bridgehead over the river and the sappers began work on the bridge site at first light.

    During the day, the Northamptons carried out operations to extend their bridgeheads and were supported in this by tanks of the Bays, which were passed round through the 56th Division’s bridgehead in Sabbioncello and thence west along the north bank of the river. At the same time, the Lancashire Fusiliers were engaged in trying to wipe out the enemy pocket south of the river by Baura..."

    "At 0900 hrs, we were warned to be ready to go through 11 Brigade that night and carry out a final rush on the Po. At midday, we received definite orders for this. The Brigade was to move at 1700 hrs in TCVs to a suitable assembly area, south of the bridge. I went to Division at 1630 hrs to get the latest form and ordered an O Group at my new Headquarters near the assembly area at 1800 hrs. Our objective was the Po.

    The enemy resistance was undoubtedly stiff and would probably become stiffer. He was defending the various canal barriers as much as possible in order to complete the withdrawal of the bulk of his forces and transport which lay east of Ferrara. If ever, it was necessary for the Bosche to stand and fight, it was now..."


     
    Last edited: Apr 23, 2020
  8. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member

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    "At 1330 hours, the ‘Kangaroo Army’ moved forward in two columns through the rest of the Irish Brigade in a movement designed to sweep the area between the River Po and the numerous canals running east from Ferrara and the Po immediately north of it. We moved forward through a maze of ditches and canals, the leading squadrons, aided it is true by air reports as to where bridges were or were not blown, doing a splendid job of work in finding a way through and, at the same time, keeping a sharp look out for the enemy...."


    "At 1800 hours, there were reports of many enemy tanks in the area just north of Ferrara and, shortly afterwards, as the light was failing, 9 Lancers fought an exciting action in which 7 enemy Mark IV tanks, moving north east towards the ferries, were knocked out for the loss of only one of their own.

    By this time, a peculiar state of affairs had been reached. Having swept right across 11 Brigade’s front, the ‘Kangaroo Force’ was strung out for some 4,000 yards with an open right flank and, with tank actions in progress over the whole area; night was drawing on; the infantry, in their ‘Kangaroos’, were a wonderful target for lurking enemy tanks in the general confusion and semi darkness. To exploit the enemy’s distress, however, it was decided that the battle would be pressed on by moonlight. The landscape was ablaze with burning houses and vehicles: further north, the RAF was dropping flares and bombing the roads and railways beyond the Po: in addition to the fires caused by bombing, shelling and mortaring, a new destruction had begun – the enemy was setting light to everything he had..."

    "As darkness fell, the tank action continued over a wide area, while the Companies in their conspicuous ‘Kangaroos’ tried their best to keep out of the armoured battle. Every farm for miles seemed to be burning and confusion seemed to reign. A decision to continue the advance by moonlight was again taken but, at 2200 hours, orders were received that the general direction of the advance was to be changed a full hundred degrees. We were now, when just short of our original objective, ordered to make straight for the Po at a point NE of Ferrara, where the Germans were reported to be evacuating their rearguards by pontoons.

    A fire plan was laid on and, by 0130 hours, G and F Companies were feeling their way northwards with their respective tanks moving well behind. This complete change of direction during the hours of darkness was accomplished with very little difficulty in spite of the fact that we were still on contact with the enemy. As G and F Companies moved forward, the mass of armoured vehicles belonging to the combined armoured-infantry HW leaguered in a field only a mile or so north of Ferrara and waited for the two Company columns to report their progress. They met with only minor opposition and, by dawn, were on the banks of the Po in the midst of an extraordinary collection of abandoned and burning vehicles left behind by the enemy.

    They included six more Mark IV tanks and a large number of lorries. Many Germans, who had either left it too or could not swim, were rounded up.

    Thus ended the fourth and longest advance made by the ‘Kangaroo Army’. The force settles down into billets in farms on its final battlefield south of the Po and perhaps its final battlefield of the war.'

    The ‘Kangaroo Army’ had taken about one hundred and fifty prisoners of war..."

    FAB QS
     
  9. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member

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    My father, CQMS Edmund O'Sullivan. recalled the events of 25th April 1945:

    "We had arrived at the Po. During the last days of the offensive, we had passed a most distressing sight. Beautiful draught horses had been shot dead and lay bloated and stinking. The Germans had killed them rather than let them live and remain for us. Most had been commandeered from the unfortunate Italians. They had lost so much. Their beautiful country had been destroyed from Sicily to the Po and occupied by aliens from all over the world.

    The south bank of the Po was an extraordinary scene. The Germans, trapped by the river, had abandoned everything. Many had even tried to swim the Po to escape and many died as a result. The carnage of war continued relentlessly as if it were now on a form of autopilot.

    The company rested by the side of Po while the Royal Engineers set about bridging its mile width. I arranged a campfire and ‘drunk’ using Canadian beer and hot rum toddy. Corporal Howarth was, as usual, master of ceremonies. When directed, each person had to sing. We had yet another new company commander to replace Major Davies who had been wounded and transferred. The replacement was Bill Hood who had been second-in-command of G Company and a friend. Nick Mosley was second-in-command, having returned after being wounded in the autumn. The war was virtually over on our front and the Germans were suing for a separate peace in Italy. The Po bridge was completed. It was a magnificent structure with, at its entrance, the numbers of the engineer regiments and squadrons that had built it. Below that were listed the subcontractors. They included the London Irish Rifles who had contributed labour to the project..."
     
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  10. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member

    Faugh a Ballagh !

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  11. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member

    Brigadier Pat Scott, 38 (Irish) Brigade:

    "On 28th April, the London Irish held a very good cocktail party in the evening, which was really to mark the closing scene of the ‘Kangaroo Army’. The ‘Kangaroo Army’ had been a great organisation and the spirit of goodwill and friendship that had grown up between 9 Lancers and the London Irish was unique. John Coombe and his Brigade Headquarters had looked after them extremely well. A similar feeling of friendship and mutual respect had developed between our battalions and the Bays and later 10 Hussars. I hope we did not have to start fighting again any more wars but, if we do I hope we may have 2 Armoured Brigade with us.

    The Army Commander sent us a special message recording his appreciation of the part we had played:​

    Confidential.

    Personal for General Arbuthnott from Army Commander.

    My best congratulations on the splendid part 78 Division has taken in these operations.

    A fine victory.

    The decisive part that your Division played in forcing the formidable Argenta position was a splendid achievement.

    By night and day, your brigades exerted relentless pressure on the enemy and succeeded in capturing this position of great strength.

    Fine cooperation between all arms, good leadership and splendid determination and fighting spirit were shown.

    Your Division have added further laurels to their great battle record in Africa and Italy.

    Well done indeed.


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    A military policeman directs traffic towards the pontoon Bailey bridge over the River Po in Italy. He is standing by an information sign which is decorated with flowers standing in a chamber pot vase.

     
    Last edited: Apr 29, 2020
  12. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member

    Brigadier Pat Scott, 38 (Irish) Brigade:

    "On the 29th, the 56th Division entered Venice and 2nd New Zealand reached the River Piave the next day.

    On the afternoon of the 30th, an excellent gymkhana was held by the Division at Copparo. Several of us had been working very hard trying to collect decent horses during the preceding days and we had a few performers in this show, though I do not think any of them shone particularly. Somehow or other, our Brigade Headquarters team of Pat Spens (Brigade Major), John McClinton and myself managed to win a bundle of lira notes. The Drums and Pipes played during the intervals and the whole thing was a great success.

    On the 1st May, the New Zealander Division linked up with Marshal Tito’s forces of Monfalcone, north west of Trieste. I had always imagines that linking up with allies is a rather dramatic moment. I found out later that it was not quite the sort of thing I imagined..."

    Men of the Royal Artillery searchlight crew clean the mirror of the light during the erection of the searchlight overlooking the pontoon Bailey bridge over the River Po, part of which is shown upside down in the reflection of the mirror:

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  13. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member

    Brigadier Pat Scott recalled some of the events of 2nd May 1945 in Italy:

    "On the 2nd, I went to have a look at Bologna and then on to see, from the German side, the old battlefields of the winter about San Clemente. Father Dan Kelleher had been there the day before and found the remains of three London Irish lads, who had been reported missing during a patrol to Tamagnin. How the Germans went on sitting in some of those forward positions of his, like Tamagnin, for month after month I cannot imagine. Tamagnin, for instance, was looked right down on from about three sides and some of his other positions between that and the Clemente – San Pietro road were not much better.

    From the German positions, we had an excellent view of our old Brigade Headquarters and especially of the hill behind it where we used to go out ski-ing. I suppose that our ski-ing activities were not considered a worthwhile target – perhaps German brigadiers do not do that sort of thing or, at any rate, such places.

    That horrible valley was now lovely in its clothing of Spring. The black forbidding earth had changed to green and the valleys were a mass of wild flowers and young vines. It was difficult to force back into one’s mind the picture they presented only a few months before. Nightingales were now singing where previously there had been a continuous banging along some part of that big salient. It is a pity that the scars of war are not healed so quickly in towns.

    We started back for home rather late and dusk was beginning to fall as we drew near Ferrara. Every evening since the battle stopped, there had been a mild display of verey light and so on. On this evening, there seemed to be more than usual as we drove towards the north. Paddy spotted a cart laden down with strawberries and asparagus. We bought as much as we could of these and filled the back of the car with them. As we went on again were verey lights than ever seemed to be going up and we began to wonder if it meant that Hitler was dead or what on earth happened. When we got through Ferrara, there was a veritable cascade of stuff going up along the Po. We stopped and asked someone what was going on and were greeted with the surprising information that the war was over. Although this possibility had crossed our minds, the statement took us by surprise. It seemed hard to believe. We stopped and asked somebody else to make sure. Yes, they said, the war was over or, at any rate, in Italy. We hurried on to get back quickly and see what was the truth about all this. We hurried for more reasons than one. Worse things than verey lights were now flying through the air. Before guns had opened up, tanks were sending streams of tracer into the air, there were bangs and flashes on all sides. We had no intention of stopping one of these missiles even if the war was over.

    After going at about 60 mph through a barrage of two inch mortars firing light signals – which I thought might well get mixed up with High Explosive in the excitement – we got back to our Headquarters.

    The Army Group South West, under General von Vietinghoff, had surrendered unconditionally to Field Marshal Alexander.

    I authorised a rum issue. There was not much else I could do.

    I knew we had no rum to issue except the buckshee stuff that the Quarter Masters always kept up their sleeves but I thought this was as good a night as any to work off some of that.

    Such celebrations, as there were, did not go on very long and, by midnight, all was quiet and peaceful.​

    It was such a big event that it took time to assimilate.

    I heard people remarking that, at any rate, we had beaten Monty to it; the ‘D Day Dodgers’ had got in first; and other kindred remarks.​

    Poor old ‘D Day Dodgers’: they had a long fight for their money.

    What a long time ago, it seems since these early days in North Africa with the appalling discomforts of that campaign.

    It seems a long time, too, since the epic battles of Sicily and Southern Italy.

    How very few had seen them all.

    How few in the Rifle Companies, who had landed in North Africa were still with us to see the culmination of their efforts.

    One’s mind turned that evening to a lot of faces of old friends whom one would not see again.

    One hopes that they, too, were able to join in the feeling of satisfaction and thankfulness that the last shot had been fired."


     
  14. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member

    No apologies for re-tweeting this thread... and especially as c5 have a documentary tonight about the Po river.

    Faugh a Ballagh !
     
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